A Sheriff’s Word of Honor (Preview)


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12 Years Earlier

The gun battle blazed in the heat of the afternoon sun. The temperature hit 85 degrees as the two groups fired at each other—the four outlaws and the sheriff and his three-man posse. A bullet zinged off a rock where an outlaw had sought cover. A bit of spare, steaming hot lead ricocheted from the rock and struck a bandit in the shoulder. He yelled with pain as blood flowed down his shirt.

Sheriff Bill Elliott aimed his rifle but didn’t pull the trigger, because the outlaw he’d aimed for dodged behind a rock. He was behind a large oak tree on the downside of the mountain, and the gang he and his men were after were above them, trying to ride to the crest. What Snake Horgan, the leader of the gang, didn’t know was that another posse with four men would soon be coming from the other side. The outlaws would soon be trapped.

Elliott, a bead of sweat running down the stubble on his cheeks, expected a shoot-out. Horgan was one of the most vicious outlaws he had come in contact with. He didn’t expect the man to surrender, he would probably go out in a blaze of bullets. Which was fine with Elliott. It would save him the trouble of hanging the varmint.

The echo of gunfire sounded on the mountain. Two of his men kept firing up at the outlaws.

“Just keep them pinned down, boys,” he said. “We don’t have to go get them. We’ve got help coming.”

The second posse was being head by Sheriff Jim Larson, from Pinto County. He was a good man, and the men with him were dependable, too. They didn’t make mistakes. Horgan was ruthless, but he and his men were not cowards either. That was about the only good thing that could be said about Horgan and his men. To Elliott, they were worthless pieces of outlaw scum. But you had to be careful when hunting them—they were dangerous men who knew how to shoot.

A bullet zinged off the bark of the tree where Elliott stood. He ducked and fired back. He didn’t need to rush the gang, not with Sheriff Larson coming up from the other side of the mountain. The outlaws were being careful. They kept under the cover of the trees, behind the bushes and boulders. Another bullet whizzed over his head. He saw an outlaw jump from behind a boulder and fire, then jump back behind it. His men fired back.

Sheriff Elliott aimed. If I time this shot right, he thought. He took a deep breath and held the rifle still. Then, the outlaw jumped from behind the boulder again. Elliott squeezed the trigger. The bandit yelled in agony as the bullet crashed into his chest. He spun around, dropping his rifle, and his hand went to cover the wound. For a moment, he didn’t seem to know what to do—grab his rifle or run back behind the cover of the trees. He waited too long to decide. A second bullet from the sheriff’s rifle hit his side. He tried to run behind the boulder but fell short, collapsing in the red dirt.

“That saves the taxpayers some money,” Elliott said. “One less hanging.”

The sheriff gave a quick smile when he glimpsed a horse and rider at the top of the mountain. It must be Sheriff Larson or one of his men.

“Keep firing, men. Stay steady. It won’t be long. If they want to surrender, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too.”

He eased behind the tree, keeping himself out of the line of fire. He pulled a cigar out of his pocket and lit it, puffing out gray smoke. All he had to do now was wait.

He didn’t have to wait for long. A minute later, a hail of gunfire sounded from the mountain top as Larson’s posse peppered the outlaw band with bullets. Horgan’s men were fighting lawmen from north and south. It was only a matter of time.

He looked out from the tree. “Hey! You men! Throw down your guns! You’re surrounded! You can be taken in alive or slung over a saddle. It’s your choice.”

At first, there was no response, except the sound of pistols and rifles. Both Elliott’s men and Larson’s men fired back. The bullets caught a second outlaw, putting a slug above his ear. He dropped his gun and fell dead behind a tree. A voice yelled back from the outlaw band, but it wasn’t a strong voice. It sounded like the man had been wounded. The man was groaning as well as shouting an answer.

“Okay. We quit! We’re throwing out our guns.”

The voice sounded like Horgan, which surprised the sheriff. He’d thought the outlaw would fight to the last man—and to the last bullet.

“Come out with your hands up.”

Two outlaws, with their arms in the air, walked out from behind the trees and bushes. Elliott saw the first was Horgan. He had a huge red spot of blood on his shirt from where he had been hit in the side. Horgan was a large man with large lips and a large nose that, to Elliott, looked like the beak of a vulture. He winced as he walked. The second outlaw was a shorter, smaller man who hadn’t been wounded.

Sheriff Elliott, gun in hand, walked toward them. His men stepped from their hiding places and started up the mountain, too.

“Where are the others?” Elliott asked.


He turned to one of his deputies. “Tom, go see if that’s true. You’d better not be lying, Horgan.”

“I’m going to kill you for this, Sheriff.” Horgan spat out the words.

The sheriff snorted. “Don’t think you’re going to get the chance. Up in state prison, they don’t allow for weekend visits. Besides, you’re going to be busting rocks for the state. If the judge doesn’t hang you, that is.”

“Two men dead up here,” his deputy shouted.

The sheriff nodded. “Okay. Boys, tie them up, and we’ll take them back for trial.”

He saw Sheriff Larson riding down toward him, smiling.

“I see you got them.”

“Yes. I appreciate the help.”

“Anytime. Been wanting to put Horgan away for a long time. He’s a mean one. Should have just shot him and put him out of his misery.”

Elliot chuckled. “We’re lawmen, we can’t do that. Although, I admit, sometimes that thought passes through my mind. It would save the taxpayers some money and save us some aggravation.”

“How true. But, wearing the badge, aggravation comes with the job.”

The sheriff watched as his deputies tied the prisoners and placed them on their horses. The outlaws looked angry and sullen but said nothing. Horgan didn’t seem to be a big talker, which was a blessing since he would be in jail for a while. The sheriff wouldn’t have to listen to the varmint if he didn’t talk much. He’d always liked to run a peaceful, quiet jail, not a noisy one.

As he turned to mount his house, the outlaw spoke up. He sneered and spit into the dust then gave a hateful stare at the sheriff.

“I’ll get you for you this, Elliott. I’ll put you in your grave.”

The sheriff just shook his head.

Two months later, the two men stood behind the defense attorney’s desk in a courtroom. A doctor had taken the bullet out of Horgan, but at times he still felt the pain of the bullet wound. The doctor had told him there might be random pain in the weakened side for the rest of his life. And he knew who to blame for it.

Judge Andrew Sullivan was six-foot-two, and he peered down from the bench at the two defendants. He directed most of his attention to Horgan. He banged his gavel.

“The jury has reached its verdict, and I concur fully with their decision. You two men are guilty of a variety of offenses. Mr. Mallen, you are culpable for the offenses the prosecution has charged you with—bank robbery and assault. But I feel part of the problem is you were under the malicious influence of Mr. Horgan.

“Without him guiding you, perhaps you would have taken a different path in life. However, you still committed the offenses charged to you. So, you will serve twelve years in the state prison. The total number of years you could receive is more than twenty, but I feel in your case, some leniency is needed. When you’ve served your sentence, you will still be young enough to build a good life. Many men have served time and turned their lives around when they have been released. I hope you are one of them.”

He paused, then looked at the second defendant.

“You, Mr. Horgan, are a different matter. There is nothing redeemable in your record. You are an inveterate outlaw with seemingly no regard for the lives of innocent people. You have committed a number of robberies where people were wounded, one seriously, and have expressed no sorrow or regret for your criminal actions.

“There are several additional murders that law enforcement officers believe you have committed. While I tend to agree with their opinion, there is no solid proof that you killed these men and a judge cannot base a sentence on hunch and suspicion. Still, there is plenty on the record to sentence you for. You shall spend at least the next twenty-five years in the state prison at hard labor. Before that and before you are taken to the prison, you will receive fifty lashes for the injuries and pain you have caused your victims. Chances are you will die inside prison bars. If so, this court does not regret it. You should not be allowed to roam free, because you have proved you are not fit to be in human company. The state prison has chaplains to minister to the inmates. Perhaps you can find redemption. A number of inmates have, and they have reformed. I hope that happens to you. If not, may God have mercy on your soul.”

Horgan drew his lips back in a bitter sneer. “When I get out, I’ll kill you two!” he yelled. “You and that sheriff. I’ll get both of you. I’ll spit on your grave!”

Sheriff Elliott motioned to his deputies, who moved over and grabbed the defendant.

“You might as well carry out the sentence now, sheriff,” the judge said. “The wagon bound for the state prison comes tomorrow morning.”

The sheriff nodded. “Take him out, boys,” he said.

As his deputies hustled Horgan off, the sheriff looked at the judge again. “He’s going to remember you, your honor.”

“Apparently, he’s going to remember both of us, Bill. I don’t like ordering any man whipped; most of the time, I think that penalty is barbaric. But in his case, I think it was justified.”

“I agree with you, your honor. And I don’t like the penalty, either. But there are exceptions, and Horgan is one. You’re right. He should never be let out of prison. That’s where he belongs. That’s a harsh thing to say, but it’s true.”

The judge shook his head. “We don’t see a lot of Sunday School types. We deal with hard men, the most hardened of criminals. But usually I see some good, even in the worst of men. There are some things they won’t do, such as shooting a woman. Even some of the most famous criminals won’t do that. And some won’t shoot anyone in cold blood or in the back. Some criminals have a code. It may not be a code that is recognized by the law, but it is a code all the same. But there are some criminals who have no code at all, and Horgan is one of them.”

Two months previous

Horgan sweated and groaned as he lifted the rail, his black and white prison outfit damp with sweat and a few drops of blood. The dozen workers were laying track for some railroad that was going to California. It was traveling not on tracks but on other men’s sweat, muscle, and blood. His back ached, as did his legs. The men, chained together, picked up another stretch of rail and moved it down the desert to the end of the last one. Six guards, all with rifles and one carrying a whip, patrolled the chain gang. They laughed and talked while the prisoners sweated. Horgan had cut his hand on a sharp rock. Blood ran down his fingers then dropped to the hot sand.

He would pay back his enemies, Horgan thought. Ever since they’d slammed the door of his cell when he’d entered the prison, vengeance was never far from his mind. He had planned it for all these years. How exactly would he kill Sheriff Elliott? He thought of a dozen ways, all painful, and then another dozen. He had worked on his plan carefully. It would begin today. This was the last day he would be in chains.

He looked up and saw the four riders coming in the distance, and he nodded. It was only a matter of time. One bit of sadness is he had heard Sheriff Elliott had died. Not from a bullet. That would have been justice, to have him killed by an outlaw who shot his guts out. No. He was told men came into the sheriff’s house one morning and found he’d had died in his sleep. Irony. A man who had used his gun so often in life had died peacefully.

Horgan spit into the sand. That was all right. There were other members of the Elliott family that he could take his revenge on. That type of revenge would still satisfy him.

Possum, the convict on his right, sweat covering his face, nudged him. “Are you sure we’re getting out of here today?”

Horgan nodded. “Sure am. I’ve worked on this plan for years. I’ve got friends on the outside, a couple of people who owe me. They’re gonna pay me back today.” He nodded toward the riders. “See them, Possum?”

Possum nodded.

“They’re our freedom.”

Possum frowned, but accepted what Horgan said.

“Ten-minute break,” a guard said. He grabbed a pail of water. “Sit down and get a drink. There’s more work to do this afternoon.”

The wagon that had transported the prisoners to the site stood about twenty yards to the side, and the two horses had just received some water from the guards. That was the rule. The horses first, and the guards were told to make sure they got plenty of water. Whether the convicts died was of no concern. But the guards didn’t want the horses to die of thirst, or of anything else for that matter. They didn’t want to be stuck in the desert in September.

The prisoners stopped carrying rails, moved about ten yards to the side, and plopped down in the sand. Several guards walked behind them. One handed a water cup to a prisoner, who drank it down quickly.

The riders drew closer. Horgan’s focus was on them. His hand shook a bit as it scratched his beard stubble. His breath was shallow. Only a few more minutes. After twelve years. Twelve hard years of agony and pain. Just a few more minutes. Then, he’d take his revenge on the dead sheriff, and then ride out of the territory. Far, far away. He sniffed with disdain. He should dig up the sheriff and shoot him, just for spite. Then scatter the old man’s bones to the wind. It would serve him right.

The guard gave him the water cup. He grabbed it and felt the cool water flow into his mouth and down his throat.

“I’ll say this for you, Eli. You always treated me fair. Not like some of the others. For that, I’ll let you live.”

The guard gave him a baffled look. He smiled. “Thank you. I appreciate it. I always try to treat all men well.”

Still with a puzzled expression, he moved down the line.

The four men rode up slowly, and the captain of the guard and his second-in-command walked out to greet the riders. One rode his horse up to him and nodded.

“Howdy. Didn’t know they were building a railroad through the valley.”

“Building railroads through everything these days. The West is going to be crawling with tracks soon,” the guard said. He looked back toward the prisoners. “Besides, the railroad got cheap labor. It don’t cost the company much.”


The other two riders spurred their horses toward the group of prisoners and the guards with them.

“Looks like you work ‘em hard. Men ever die working here?”

“A few do. Don’t matter, though,” the captain said. “Nobody cares about these men. When they drop, we just dig a hole and roll them in it. Make a wooden cross, stick it in the ground, and go on.” He turned back and looked at the prisoners. “These men ain’t got no relatives to come and mourn. Ain’t got no friends, either.”

“Well… some do.”

“What? What do you mean by that, mister?”

The man whipped out his pistol and fired. Bullets tore through the captain and his second-in-command, who fell to the sand without saying another word. The other two men pulled their guns and felled two more guards with rifles. The remaining guards put up their hands.

The head of the outlaw band, Clint Lawson, pointed his gun at one of the guards. “Free them,” he ordered. “If you do, no one else will die.”

The guard nodded. He grabbed the keys and unlocked the shackles.

Lawson turned his horse around. “Which one of you is Horgan?”

“I am,” Horgan said.

Lawson spurred his horse toward the man. He leaned on his saddle horn. “Long time ago, you did my daddy a favor. Might’ve saved his life. The debt is paid. The slate is wiped clean.”

Horgan nodded. “Obliged.”

“You prisoners. Get in the wagon. We’ll take you to place with a little more shade than this. Then we leave you. Dig into the pockets of the guards and see if they have any money. We have some horses for you, and you may need them soon. When they find out four guards have been killed, there’ll be a ruckus. Better get out of the territory. They find you after this, they won’t send you back here. They’ll just hang you. Get in the wagon, and we’ll get you out of here.”

The convicts scrambled into the prison wagon. Horgan stood before Larson’s horse for a moment.

“I’m planning a job and I’m gonna need some help. Want to join in? I gotta get some money first, then I have some payback I want to hand out. I’d like a good man with me. But there’s a woman that’s going to be killed. Figure I should tell you that,” he said.

Lawson shook his head. “My family owed you for helping my pa long ago. But we’re even now. I don’t hold with killing women. Now, you’re on your own.”

“Okay, so be it.”

Lawson rode over to one of his men. “Clyde, you drive the wagon. We don’t want anyone to spot a prisoner driving it. That might look suspicious.”

Clyde laughed as he dismounted. “Yes, I would think so. Where are we taking them?”

“Dawson’s Creek. They got water there. The horses are there. I figure we can get them some clothes and some food and that will be it. The rest is up to them.”

Clyde glanced at the wagon. “Saw you were talking to Horgan. You know him?”

“No, today was the first time I seen him. But I owed him. Some years ago, he did my pa a big favor. Probably kept him out of prison and may have saved his life.”

“Then your pa is the only man Horgan has ever helped. He’s a hard man, as hard as those rocks they were breaking. Must have been a fluke if he aided another man.”

“I don’t know the details, but I know Pa appreciated the help back then.” He thought for a minute about what Horgan had told him. “But he is a hard man, that’s for sure. After today, I’ll have nothing to do with him.”

Lawson took the reins of Clyde’s horse and tied him to the back of the prison wagon, thinking about what Horgan had said to him. It didn’t sit right with him. The man planned to kill a woman. Even though he was an outlaw, that wasn’t right. He didn’t like thinking he freed a man from prison who planned to kill a woman.

He shook his head. It was a pity that another man hadn’t helped his father. But at least the debt was paid.

Chapter One

Deputy Drake Holstead stood and smiled as the train slowed and prepared to stop at the town of Sebastian. It was the first week the Western Union engine had halted at the town. The rails had recently been connected to the larger railroad, delighting townspeople and making Western Union executives happy that they had another town on the line.

The engine groaned like a wounded bull as it stopped at the station. The conductor climbed down and waved to the passengers

Holstead stood there with Joyce Elliott, the widow of the sheriff, and her 21-year-old daughter Ella, who was the town’s schoolteacher and the woman who taught Sunday school at the local New Hope Church.

“Good morning, folks. You’re traveling with us?” the conductor asked.

“Only me. I’m going back East,” Joyce said.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll have a fine trip, ma’am. I was sort of hoping we’d have the deputy travel with us, too. Figure he could keep the peace on the trip.”

Holstead laughed. “I’m sure the railroad people can do that, sir. Keeping the peace in Sebastian is enough for me.”

“I’m just here to see my mother off,” Ella added.

“I see. You’ll have about ten minutes to say goodbye. We have to unload some mail, but that shouldn’t take long. When we’re ready, we’ll give the whistle a big blow.”

The deputy moved back a few feet so Ella and her mother would have some privacy. A half-dozen people walked onto the platform. Two looked like traveling salesmen. Holstead ignored them. One elderly woman got off, too, as well as a gentleman who dressed like a banker or Wells Fargo executive. But it was the fifth passenger who made Holstead narrow his eyes. The man was tall and sturdy. An aquiline nose and chin gave him something of a foreboding look. His cold black eyes stared out, focused for a minute on Holstead’s badge before they turned to another object. But his thin lips curved into a smile. Anyone looking at it would have smiled back.

The deputy wondered if the man was a gunfighter. That was the job description that leapt to mind. But perhaps not. You shouldn’t judge a man by his looks. Holstead had known some ugly men who were kind and had good hearts. He had also known some very handsome slick-talkers who would put a bullet in your back without any hesitation or regret. Whatever a man’s features—handsome or ugly—you had to know his character before making a decision about him.

The man did pause when he saw the badge, Holstead thought. But most people would. He smiled as the man walked by. That indicated the man might be staying in Sebastian for a while. The deputy wondered what his business was.

Ella and her mother hugged. Holstead eased over to them.

“You take care, Mother. And write me often about Grandma and Granddad.”

“They would have loved for you to come, too. “

Ella shook her head. “I feel my future is in the West. This feels like my home, and I don’t want to leave. I know Granddad and Grandma are getting up in years and they need someone to kind of look after them. But you can do that, and you’ve always liked the East. In my one trip back, I wasn’t all that impressed with it. I love the West.”

Her mother nodded. “I do like the East. A little better than the West. But Bill loved it out here. And I can’t complain. It was good to us.” She looked at Holstead. “Will you please keep an eye on my daughter, Deputy? I don’t like leaving her alone, but I know this is her home. This is her place in the world, but I still worry.”

“I certainly will. I might even attend a class or two, get a little bit more schooling.”

The ladies laughed. Holstead did not have to be encouraged to stay near Ella. She was 21, just a month from being 22, and a lovely young woman. She had blond hair and the bluest of eyes, a gentle voice and a sweet manner. You could look at her and tell she had a good heart. The elderly pastor Reverend John Turlly had suffered a heart attack three weeks earlier, and while he was recovering, she looking after him and his wife Mary, helping them with everyday chores. Deputy Holstead had not been a steady churchgoer in the past, but he was planning to become a regular Sunday pew-sitter in the future.

The whistle sounded and a stream of white smoke blew into the air.

“We’d better get you on board, Mrs. Elliott. Let me take your bags,” the deputy said.

He lifted the two suitcases and followed Joyce Elliott onto the train, where she took a seat near the middle of the railcar. He placed the suitcases on the overhead shelf. Her daughter would be sending other items to the Ohio address of her grandparents. Ella hugged her one more time.

“We’d better go,” she said. “Or the train will be taking us down the line when it roars off.”

Holstead escorted her back onto the platform. The whistle sounded and the engine groaned again as the train started moving. Joyce waved goodbye, and Ella and Holstead waved back. They watched until the train was out of sight.

“Thank you for coming down to see my mother off, Drake. That was very nice of you.”

“I figured it was the least I could do. You hate to see good people leave town. I know your mother needed to go and help your grandparents, but it’s the town’s loss. We will miss her. I always liked talking with her.”

“Thank you for saying that. I certainly am going to miss her, too. I cried a few tears because she is leaving.” She tapped her heart with her finger. “But I truly believe her place is back East, and know my place is here. That makes the separation a little easier. I know the Lord can look after the both of us.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“But I must admit I’ll be lonely for a while, missing my mom. This will be the first night in years that the house was been empty.”

He nodded. “Tell you what, Ella. Would you have dinner with me? I’m sure you’ve been so busy today what with helping your mother pack that you haven’t had time to fix anything. Let’s have someone else cook for us tonight, then I will walk you home. You won’t have much time to be concerned that the house is empty. Probably just fall asleep after a busy day.”

“Thank you, Drake. That is so sweet. And I will take you up on that, I was wondering what I was going to do this evening. I appreciate the offer.”

“A Sheriff’s Word of Honor” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Drake Holstead is the trustworthy sheriff of a town torn apart by notorious criminals. When he first takes on his duty, he already has a solemn vow to keep; to protect Ella, the daughter of the former sheriff who has recently passed away. However, he will soon realize that keeping the young woman safe is no child’s play. The escape of a relentless killer with a wild thirst for revenge will complicate his demanding task. Will Drake manage to remain true to his word of honor and prevent the disaster before it’s too late?

Since Snake Horgan was arrested twelve years ago, only one thing was whirling around his mind; to take vengeance on Sheriff Elliott, the man responsible for his capture. But when he breaks out from jail, he is more than disappointed to discover that the sheriff is dead. Thirsty for revenge, he decides to punish his daughter instead. Having a vicious gang by his side, he will sneakily prepare his attack. The vigilant new town sheriff, though, will try to thwart his plans.. Will evil Horgan finally accomplish the evil mission he’s been dreaming of for twelve years?

While Horgan is on the trail of Ella, she and Drake will become closer… Will Drake succeed in protecting his town and saving the woman who stole his heart? Or will Horgan and his fellow criminals bring chaos to the peaceful town once more?

“A Sheriff’s Word of Honor” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

7 thoughts on “A Sheriff’s Word of Honor (Preview)”

  1. Loved what I have read so far looking forward to read the rest of the story and see what happens.

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